BRASELTON — In less than a week, the champagne will be flowing and people will be celebrating the coming of the new year.
But while people watch Dick Clark count down to 2009 in Times Square or watch the Peach Drop in Atlanta, Braselton Officer Ray Rutledge will be patrolling the streets, on the lookout for drunk drivers and others breaking the law.
Rutledge came to the department in June 2007, and Police Chief Terry Esco said he saw Rutledge’s potential right away.
"He came here just to be a patrol officer, but then I realized his specialty was getting drunks off the road," Esco said. "He got two or three DUIs that (first) night."
Rutledge went on to make 105 arrests on charges of driving under the influence from July 2007 to July 2008, earning him the Mothers Against Drunk Driving 2007 award and, most recently, the 2008 Todd Helcher DUI award from the Northeast Traffic Enforcement Network, according to a news release.
Todd Helcher was an officer with the Braselton Police Department who, like Rutledge, was proficient when it came to keeping impaired drivers off the road. When Helcher was killed on his way home from work, Esco set up the award in his honor.
"I was very proud," Rutledge said about receiving the Todd Helcher award. "It’s one of the best accomplishments I’ve ever gotten; and for the department, that’s a big honor."
During a typical shift, officers answer calls, drive through neighborhoods and check on businesses.
Esco said his officers work 12-hour shifts, and are all equally dedicated to their work. Some have specialties, like Rutledge’s skill at finding people driving under the influence, but all have the same duties each shift.
"He (Rutledge) has to answer calls; he has to check businesses and neighborhoods," Esco said, just like other officers. "They keep a lot of accidents from occurring."
For the most part, Rutledge works the night shift and knows what time of night people are more likely to be driving home from bars.
"Between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. is when most people are drinking," he said.
Rutledge also said many of the drivers he pulls over have mixed alcohol with medicine or other drugs.
"I see a lot of abuse of pills. The other night a 20-year-old kid almost hit me straight on. It was a combination of Xanax and alcohol," he said.
To prepare for all the different scenarios that can happen, Rutledge took classes and became certified in the seven levels of accident investigation. The classes have both practical components and in-class instruction, and give officers a good idea of how they can improve.
"They tell you what you do wrong and how to better yourself," Rutledge said.
Preparing for New Year’s Eve
New Year’s Eve falls on a Wednesday this year, and Rutledge and other officers will be patrolling the streets that night to ensure drunk drivers stay off the roads.
Though the holiday is associated with champagne and widespread celebration, it’s not as fraught with drunk driving incidents as people may think, Rutledge said.
"We actually see a lot of DUIs on Halloween as well," he said.
Braselton officers also get the opportunity to work with officers in other jurisdictions while out patrolling, since the town stretches into four counties and Braselton officers patrol about six miles of Interstate 85.
This proximity to other counties means Rutledge pulls over local residents driving under the influence as well as people from other counties and occasionally from other states.
"You see a variety," he said.